Knot BodyPlaylist by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch
Bringing together poetry, essay, and letters to "lovers, friends and in-betweens," Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch confronts the ways capitalism, fatphobia, ableism, transness, and racializations affect people with chronic pain, illness, and disability. knot body explores what it means to discover the limits of your body, and contends with what those limitations bring up in the world we live in.
Dear friends, lovers, and in-betweens,
Standing in front of a pool of hot water, my body is ready for a dissociation that never comes. What a pleasant surprise! I remember the time my hands overheated so much in the low dish sink at work, all wet and wrinkly, my body feeling elsewhere, the heat rising in me, my feet no longer connected to my body. You tell me, we must first jump into the hot, then the cold, but we mustn’t scream. We wince going into the cold pool while this older lady toughs it out, starts doing the breaststroke. We breathe deeply to remind ourselves our bodies are not being attacked, but I still jump out of the pool before you, not wanting the cold water to touch my junk.
Bessel van der Kolk is in the hands of every queer on the queerest bus in Montreal. The 80 houses them all, reading about trauma and boasting their somatic knowledge. I ask Bessel what it means that I don’t fight or flight, and he tells me freeze is most effective for you. I laugh because it’s the winter in Montreal, so we are all frozen, but Bessel doesn’t get the joke. He is hard to make laugh, so I try harder, telling him that I forgot a memory but it came back so suddenly that it smacked me right back into bed. My knees start hurting when I walk upstairs. My back hurts when I lean in too much. Bessel asks me why I think pain is funny, and I don’t have an answer.
Would my life be less fun if I didn’t laugh when my wrists start feeling like those of a person with osteoarthritis? I haven’t lived long enough for my bones to wear down over time.
Bessel has no humour, but I decide not to ditch him.
I tell Bessel, I’m only 25! You gotta think it’s funny that I feel 80.
Bessel thinks it’s sad, and this is when I ditch him.
Kolk in Dutch means pond, depth, abyss, chasm, and vortex.
I think Bessel might be too deep for me.
Dear friends, lovers, and in betweens,
Exceptionalism is the lie we tell ourselves to keep pushing towards an unachievable goal. You sit at the foot of my bed and watch me from your perch but don’t touch me, just give me that look that says, stay right there. You are not frightened, no, more observant. The cool distance of your body contrasts with the heat in my own. Today, I tried on six pairs of pants at the store to no avail. What is the difference even between a size 12 or 14, a size 38 or 40? It’s all arbitrary, even though someone tells me if I can fit the length of my forearm in the waist hole, that it should fit, but have they heard about fat? It’s not like my arm grows in length when I gain more weight. Half the battle is hoping the weight I gain is in a place deemed appropriate by pant makers. For some reason, they think my ankles are where all my fat should go while my thighs should stay petite. Did you know there’s something called a straight size? It’s just not a plus size. I’d rather be plus than straight. I’m even too gay for clothing.
The lies we tell ourselves so we can get up in the morning. Sometimes I just sleep over at your house so you can help me get up in the morning. The number of times a loved one has made breakfast for me is innumerable. How do I redistribute the weight of those acts? I start making mental charts of what is given to me and what I owe, the list growing into an intricate spreadsheet, so long and complicated that I can no longer hold it in my brain. I stop myself from writing it all down in Excel because that’s just too much. Of course I can’t consider marriage when I’m lying face first in bed. The only act of anarchy I can perform from this site is refusing to legally tie my life to another. Would you even want to saddle your sack to this old horse? My polyamorous rad politics make me better than you somehow, right? The you that wants to be legally tied, the you that wants a celebration of love, the you who has chosen just one human to raise kids with. We’re all hypocrites when we’re not looking hard enough. I buy Perrier, which I hate, for one lover, and my other lover tells me it’s genocide owned. If you know me, I’m screaming in the streets daily about Zionism. Am I part of the problem when I’ve shelled out $1 when it was on sale?
THERE ARE MORE PALESTINIANS OUTSIDE THEIR OWN COUNTRY THAN IN. THERE ARE MORE LEBANESE OUTSIDE THEIR COUNTRY THAN IN. THERE ARE MORE SYRIANS OUTSIDE THEIR COUNTRY THAN IN.
We all come from suffering. Our people separated quickly and efficiently, the way the word efficient sounds good until it’s not. I do understand the new difference, the ways our actions can’t be changed, the way the Lebanese government and so many of its people have treated Syrians and Palestinians like dirt. And what of our similarities when our differences are solidified through hate? There’s this meme of a frog that has the face of the British flag, that asks Arabs, can you revolt against the Ottomans? and the Arabs, in the form of a map say, You promise our independence? We all know where the meme ends. A people split into pieces, Greater Syria divided by a hard line, the border between Syria and Lebanon. The border between Lebanon and Palestine. Between Jordan. The creation of that ungodly country I must not name.
I don’t understand the way your eyes shine when you laugh, sitting on my couch. I don’t understand how to tell you this without making me sound creepy. The summer fades into winter in a deadening way, except for the sun, those fall sunsets the deepest pink, the deepest purple, the most orange golden hour, the most painful omission of light. You text me about the fish you caught in your net, fish sliminess in the palm of your frozen hand, the dew sitting on the tops of the blades of grass, just between day and night, the crickets fighting to see who can be the loudest. The texts I receive always make it into poems so watch out what you say!
Omg, who is she? she’s so big and bold she wears that shoulder so well a style icon in her own right they say her name is Betsy but I can’t quite tell what she wants she lives on the right a big bowling ball dyke knotting her way into my shoulder overpopulating my body and the signal wires get crossed bringing bowling shoes back into fashion maybe she’s excited to meet me, maybe she wants a new friend but this pain works deeper than a knot it recirculates in my body works its way through my bloodstream and muscles I tell her Betsy looks like you forgot your bowling ball right in the space between my neck and shoulders forgotten slowly over time I try to remind her come back and grab it
Betsy you’re hurting
me Betsy forgets she isn’t trying to hurt me
lying on the massage table I hear the bubbles of the aquarium, the hum of your dog buzzing around, in and out of the room wanting any attention we can give her, before finally, defeated she settles her butt on a chair, watches me from her perch we work on Betsy she’s easing her way out you dig you fingers into my shoulders into my back, first gently and then deep and hard look at the way Betsy gets all nervy and cracky look at the way it starts to loosen squeaking like a baby chick this is the moment I hold back little noises threatening to escape my mouth because I might sound like I’m enjoying it too much the queer fear of being creepy while someone massages your naked body the bed sheet tucked into my underwear every other piece of my body exposed
we can work with them now my stubborn knots are trying to talk but it’s a language I don’t understand hey Betsy, speak English I feel like the Franco police in Quebec soften my voice, relax into the pain I tell her French or Arabic works too I kind of know Spanish? but Betsy and I only know the language of pain and so we push harder against her until it becomes too much
I talk to Betsy at night, rub her, remind her about her bowling balls Betsy and the bowling balls are one, they cannot be separated she’s a hard Taurus eager to please but stuck she won’t move until she knows where she’s going when I massage her I don’t know where to tell her to go so she stays smaller and smaller
but still there
Dear friends, lovers, and in-betweens,
The last time I was in Zalka was a trip. My cousin spent day after day monitoring her food intake, watched my sister and I lick our ice cream cones with pleasure, watched us eat without worry. Her diet meant no sugar, no candy, no sweets. It meant no carbs, no bread, no pasta. When we went out to restaurants, she chose the salad with the blandest dressing. I would say I felt bad for her but I used to be her. Have you ever calorie counted? Have you ever stopped eating after six pm? When you tell me you’re giving up brown sugar, I have to ignore you until I forget that we’re even eating, forget the calories, forget bad food. You try to get me to take the Doritos home so you don’t eat them and this is when your eating disorder contends with mine. We resolve to eat them together so we both feel in control. What kind of labour goes into pretending? I dye my hair grey to match my Instagram handle, pretend I have a brand I need to uphold, as though my followers aren’t just you and my mother.
When I used to try not to eat, I’d get so faint that I felt like I had lost all the blood inside of me. It seemed unimaginable that this didn’t mean something was wrong with me. Another time, I biked up a hill with flat tires that I didn’t realize were flat, deep pools of sweat burbling over my shoulder blades and my spine, making their way down to the crack of my ass. I blamed myself for getting out of shape and barely made it home in one piece. Years later, my fibro diagnosis finally made sense, the way I called my fatigue laziness, the way I compared myself to others. You tell me that I’m the person with chronic pain who shows it the least. I don’t tell you it’s because I learned how to hide any perceived weakness from a young age. I take it as a compliment even though it shouldn’t be. My back starts hurting and I can almost feel it screaming internalized ableism as it squeaks and cracks. As it begins to grow louder, I shout over it, pretending I didn’t hear it. It goes on like this for many years. Do you see how stubborn I am? I tell my therapist I’m my own worst enemy and she tells me, no, that’s his voice inside your head. We come to a stalemate, and it takes me two weeks to agree with her. I come back with my tail between my legs and she laughs. I don’t need to be right; I just want you to feel better. I almost hug her but remember that is unprofessional. So I just tell her I like her earrings, seems like a good compromise.
Try therapy at least once if you can afford it. It helps me get out of bed to hear my therapist’s voice over his.